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Intervention by Paschal's predecessor may have fired starting pistol on leadership race

Philip Ryan


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Michael Noonan and Paschal Donohoe in 2017. Photo: Fergal Phillips

Michael Noonan and Paschal Donohoe in 2017. Photo: Fergal Phillips

Michael Noonan and Paschal Donohoe in 2017. Photo: Fergal Phillips

Michael Noonan's decision to publicly declare that Paschal Donohoe was his preferred candidate for the Fine Gael leadership was for one of two reasons.

Noonan was either making a last-ditch attempt to ensure Donohoe is elected or he is teeing up the next Fine Gael leadership contest.

Noonan backs Donohoe to be Fine Gael leader as pressure mounts on Varadkar.

Donohoe is undoubtedly not running in a safe seat in his native Dublin Central.

The rise in anti-Government sentiment will benefit his rivals, especially the smaller parties. He told the 'Floating Voter' podcast it was all to play for in the constituency due to the unpredictable nature of the campaign.

He could be in for the fight of his political career. After all, he only scraped in ahead of Social Democrat Gary Gannon in 2016.

Ahead of that election, Rural Affairs Minister Michael Ring intervened to say Donohoe was a future party leader.

Perhaps Noonan's comments are an attempt to shore up voter support in his successor's constituency by dangling the possibility of a future Taoiseach or at least a Fine Gael leader living in Dublin city centre. They love Enda Kenny out that way thanks to the regeneration project he began to stop the spread of gang violence.

But the other option is far more interesting. Did Michael Noonan fire the starting pistol on the next Fine Gael leadership campaign?

He didn't say Donohoe would make a fine leader of the party some day in the far off future.

He pointedly said the Donohoe had been his preferred option ahead of the last contest, which ultimately saw Leo Varadkar elected leader and Taoiseach.

During the leadership campaign he was also central to Simon Coveney's decision to stay in the race. A call from Noonan convinced the Tánaiste to keep going when it looked to be all over.

You can understand why Varadkar would not be Noonan's first choice.

He was subtly forced from office, along with Taoiseach Enda Kenny, by a cabal of Varadkar's supporters.

So there's previous there, as they say. And what better way to enact revenge than begin a heave against Varadkar before the election has even been held. Donohoe has always played down any leadership ambition and supported Varadkar's candidacy long before the campaign started.

However, he was always sure to keep his distance because his loyalty lay with Kenny and Noonan.

The game is not up for Varadkar. The people still have to vote, but it's clear he is not the political messiah some in his party hoped he would be.

Varadkar says he would like to stay on as leader if the party ends up in opposition. Maybe he will. His main rivals, Donohoe and Coveney, played central roles in the election campaign. If things don't go well they are as much to blame as him for Fine Gael ending up in opposition.

Donohoe will be thankful of Noonan's endorsement if he keeps his seat. Varadkar will also be anxious that his colleague returns to the Dáil.

However, Noonan's intervention may come back to haunt him.

Irish Independent